"After a long wait for the wind, Skandia Cowes Week comes alive..."

The fourth day of Skandia Cowes Week dawned with a light north-easterly breeze filtering off the mainland shore giving the Race Officers of the Royal Yacht Squadron no option but to fly the red and white flags -AP over AP – and enter a delay of some two and a half hours. All the weather indicators suggested however that a new south-westerly breeze would slowly move down the Solent to cancel out the incumbent north-easterly and right on time at 1.00pm the meteorology was proven right and a beautiful day of sunshine and 11-13 knot winds set the tone for a classic afternoon of Solent racing.

Sensibly the decision was also made to split the inshore White Group fleet under special sailing instructions to give eight classes a start line off the Skandia Barge and shorten the starting sequence off the Squadron platform. Meanwhile the glamour classes of IRC 0-5 enjoyed a tricky afternoon of sailing in the eastern Solent off a committee boat startline by Lee-on-Solent where the converging breezes produced patchy conditions before the south westerly finally filled late into the racing.

Class 0 had a tough race over almost five hours but it was Shirley Robertson steering Eamon Conneely’sPatchesthat made the best of the conditions and returned to their winning ways of Saturday’s opening race by recording a resounding victory of 4 minutes 52 seconds over Kit Hobday’sBear of Britain.Nick Lykiardopulo’s Ker 55Aeragrabbed third place to secure her overall lead but with the class now allowing just one discard in the series following yesterday’s abandoned race, there are no margins for errors.Patchescollected the Royal Yacht Squadron Cup for their efforts today and this sleek looking, brand new TP52 off the drawing board of the Reichel-Pugh office and crewed by some of the world’s top professional sailors is certainly cranking up the pressure in this, their first regatta.

With baited breath the Principal Race Officer John Grandy addressed the Laser SB3 fleet over the radio just before their starting sequence, anxious for no repeat of the two general recalls that delayed the White Group over the opening weekend’s racing. With a fast-running ebb tide and frustratingly light winds that just topped 5 knots, the leading SB3s got away cleanly although some 16 boats had found themselves down tide unable to get back to the start-line causing the classes behind them to take note and stay noticeably line shy all afternoon. Ian Southworth sailing WKD Vodka Red was one that got away cleanly with a superb start just at the outer distance Alpha buoy and led the fleet out on a long starboard tack towards Egypt Point with Jerry Hills steeringTeam Touaregin close pursuit. Once into Gurnard Bay, the winds picked up for the leaders and they enjoyed a good afternoon of sailing, crossing the tide to the mainland shore before a series of legs up and down the mouth of Southampton Water over 15.9 nautical miles. Southworth sailed a canny race, dicing and duking with Nigel Olive-Jones throughout the afternoon to secure a narrow but sweet victory of 29 seconds. Team Touareg came in third just ahead of a huge mass of finishers that packed out the top ten places. 2005 is proving to be a very good year for the Laser SB3 fleet with a record entry for the class of 66 boats which has grown out of all proportion from just 9 entries back in 2002.

With 31 entries, the International Dragon class is witnessing some very close racing too and consistent results from class stalwart Graham Bailey sailingAimeesees him top the leader-board from former Dragon World champion Poul Ricard Hoj-Jensen aboardDanish Blue.Today’s racing was a tactical affair with the top two virtually match racing around the course in the western Solent with Bailey emerging as a 50 second winner over Hoj-Jensen whilst the rest of the fleet remained some three minutes behind. The chasing pack was led home by Peter Nicholson’s Virago but the pattern seems to be set at the front of the fleet and the overall class victory looks at this stage like Bailey’s or Hoj-Jensen’s to lose.

For the Black Group, starting on the outer Royal Yacht Squadron line, north of the Alpha buoy there were two outstanding performers of the day with both Andy Budgen and Freddie Schwyn’s Sigma 38,The Projectand the Dutch entered X332Yellow Roseof Marten Jan Ringers scoring their third race victories respectively. These two boats are now second and third in the overall standings for the Black Group withThe Projectjust sneaking ahead owing to fleet size and their tussle for overall victory will be a fascinating one to watch unfold as both boats would appear to be a class apart in their fleets. Andy Budgen was on top form today, leading away the Sigma 38’s from the line, in clear air enjoying noticeably more boatspeed whilst in the X332’sYellow Rosemade a cautious start but steamed through to leeward on a long starboard leg into Gurnard Bay before going on to win by over 3 minutes.

The thirteen boats of the International Etchells fleet saw some desperately close racing over a 14 mile course in the western Solent with Ryde resident Mark Downer scoring a popular class win aboardMoonlightfrom Andrew Cooper’sChina White.Cooper was rightly disappointed after streaking away following a superb start and had to fight hard to beat off Robert Elliott’sEspritby just 12 seconds. The class itself, although slightly down on numbers this year is expecting a renewed surge of interest as the 2007 World Championships are being held in Cowes and this fleet still remains one of the toughest to win at Skandia Cowes Week.

As the ebb tide eased off in the early afternoon and began to turn on the Island shoreline, there were some surprising fleet separations as the final classes of the day got underway after 3.00pm. For the Committee Boat starters it proved to be a long day on the water waiting for the wind to fill and not surprisingly the results tables were turned upside down as the element of luck played heavily. In Class 2 IRC, the previously untouchable Ker 39 of Colm Barrington,Flying Glovewere beaten to the class win by Dutch Sinergia 40Daikin Aircoof Frans van der Heijden to knock them off the top of the Black Group overall whilst in Class 1 IRC Christopher Sharples scored a superb victory, bringing homeExabyte 3some 4 and a half minutes clear of Tony Mack’sMcFly.

One result from today that really stands out was in Class 5 IRC where Adam Gosling’s beautiful new Corby 29Yes!scored a resounding victory by almost five minutes from the rest of the fleet to score their third win of the regatta and place them at the top of the Black Group standings. Gosling, a former Etchells World champion, is sailing this week with his long-time sailing muse and Olympic coach David Howlett and the pair have really got the bit between their teeth to consistently head this massive fleet of 44 boats with amazing boatspeed and top tactical calls.Yes!will be a tough act to beat this year at Skandia Cowes Week and the rest of the fleet know it.

In the largest fleet of the week, the romantic wooden classics of the XODs saw class veteran Lt Colonel Stuart Jardine pull another masterstroke out of his bag of tricks to score an emphatic 39 second victory over David Lindsay’sCaprice.Jardine was a class apart right from the starting gun following a general recall as he tacked away into the last of the ebb tide at the outer distance Alpha buoy and pulled away from the fleet in clear air whilst displaying superb boatspeed and handling. William McNeill finished in third place whilst Jardine’s twin brother and Olympic bronze medallist Adrian Jardine scored a handy fourth place to rocket him up the leaderboard.

Another fast starter, Ben Few-Brown’s all yellow Seaview mermaid,Sheenscored a narrow class win from Noel and Richard Dobbs aboardCynthiawhilst in the Redwing class James Wilson’sQuailshowed a very clean pair of heels to work his way through the fleet after a slow start to record a win just shy of two minutes from William Clegg’s Lady Laetitia. In the Victory class, Jeremy Lear’sZinniaskippered by Solent ace John Tremlett scored his first victory of Skandia Cowes Week whilst James Axtell’sDionysusfinished with a big margin in the 27-strong Daring fleet. Another big win was posted in the RS-K6 fleet by Glyn Locke’sArtigianowhilst in the Sonar fleet, Simon Barter posted a 16 minute win over Duncan Bates inBilly.

As the evening sunshine drenched the town of Cowes, weary sailors came ashore to find the town buzzing as huge numbers of spectators lined the foreshore and all along the High Street. There was a treat too for spectators with the Champagne Mumm Navy Raiders sky-dive team landing on the grass of Princes Green accompanied by explorer Bear Grylls, the youngest man to climb Everest and the holder of the current world record for hosting the highest dinner party in the world with David Templeman-Adams at 25,000ft.

Meteorologist, Chris Tibbs, who today called the conditions to perfection for the Race Officers is forecasting a few showers in the very early morning at the tail end of a passing front leaving west-north west winds in the 8-13 bracket before increasing in the early afternoon to 15 knots with more sunshine predicted. As the action heats up on the water and the leaderboards become ever tighter, there’s everything to play for at Skandia Cowes Week 2005.